The relationship between humans and nature is far from satisfactory! The recent reports by the IPCC (climate, 2022) and the IUCN (biodiversity, 2021) make this quite clear! Why should we be concerned about our future?
Humans ceased to be animals when, after learning to make tools which were increasingly elaborate and which they kept and carried with them, they domesticated fire, well over a million years ago. And that was when the disease and anxiety that we often talk about, began: the obsession to keep the fire burning, tirelessly, everywhere, in all situations and circumstances, even during the longest journeys in very wet regions. Does this mean that there was no anxiety before? No, of course not, but not the same anxiety shared by all mobile animals with an adapted neural system, about searching for food and escaping from predators. Will we find food and be able to avoid being eaten? Lucy suffered from the same fears, some 3 million years ago!
Today, we must put an end to all such scepticism, fuelled by powerful and irresponsible lobbies, and, without being unduly afraid (and succumbing to paralysing eco-anxiety!), take our environmental concerns in hand and do everything we can to react. The French philosopher Edgar Morin told us in 2018, “…the probable conclusion is catastrophic, it is that we are heading towards the abyss.” But he added “However, the improbable has always been a factor in human history, the future is never certain… The intrinsic characteristic of metamorphosis, like all creation, is that it is not predictable… humanity lacks a planetary conscience”. When will we admit to ourselves that we are acting irresponsibly and with total disregard for what we will leave to our descendants, which also threatens the world in which we will be living out our lives? We can’t go on with our current short-term political attitude to government, the criteria whereby we run our economy are completely out of date, it is not the end of the world, but the end of a world, the one that has brought us to the current dead-end. An economy that does not take externalities into account, and which consists in making money by destroying nature or over-exploiting it, is doomed, in that it advocates infinite growth in a finite world, soon to be populated by 9 or 10 billion people, which must inevitably lead to social chaos and destabilisation. Yes, we do have many sources of concern today, often swept aside by a carefree attitude or the short-term enjoyment of material goods, while neglecting three quarters of the human population. While awareness has indeed become widespread, and the extremely quick ratification of the Paris Agreement in 2016 is a spectacular demonstration of this, are we nevertheless doing all that is necessary to stop the widespread degradation of our environments? When will we finally evolve from faber to sapiens?
The current COVID-19 pandemic sheds light on our situation: what should not have happened has come to pass, and what should have remained limited to the area around Wuhan has gone around the world with lightning speed. This is again due to our mistreatment of all the life forms with which we share this planet! When sufficiently preserved and in good condition, the diversity of living things amazes us, nourishes, heals, maintains, reassures and inspires us. The economic theory of “disaster myopia” could also be applied here to the health crisis. There is in fact a tendency over time to underestimate the probability of infrequent shocks in an uncertain environment, when the probability of the risk occurring cannot be calculated because of its low frequency. This means that we end up forgetting the past and then imagine that what is very rare is of no importance whatsoever! Three quarters of the new diseases since 1940 are due to “species hopping” (zoonoses).
And this will recur if we continue as before. Accelerating climate change is undoubtedly due to the way we have misused the planet’s resources. The past few years have been the hottest in 160 years, and heat waves will continue to occur. The enemy is not a virus but our activities and behaviour, namely too much consumerism and not enough moderation! In the end, we ourselves are the enemy, not the virus! Moreover, we constantly forget our dependence on nature. So, above all, let us not return to the system of unbridled economy which aims to build profits by destroying or over-exploiting our capital: nature.
Let us always remember that we are made of water, salts and cells! Hopefully, this small virus, made up of only fifteen genes, will provide the collective electroshock to bring us back to our senses.
Professor at Sorbonne University